or Why Are There So Many Different Goddamned Wine Glasses?
Originally written sometime last weekend
What I'm Drinking: Chateau Lanessan (2002)
There is a very good reason that there are a zillion different shapes of wine glasses. Typically, I am of the school of thought that goes a little something like, "if it gets the job done, it is the right tool for the job right now," and certainly, that can apply to wine, wine glasses, this clever man, and so on. But I like the idea of lots of wine glasses that are appropriate for different wines because it's all backed up by science! Plus, wine glasses are pretty.
Bear in mind for this post that, while I am learning a decent amount about wine glasses, below is 98% of the wine glass collection in our household (the other 2% is in the dishwasher), and annotated for your viewing pleasure:
These are not wine glasses. The above are mutant drinking vessels with stems and feet that are a wine-delivery method. An effective wine delivery method, but they're like The Island of Misfit Toys II: Booze Cruise. On the other hand, I will always stand behind that quote from The Hobbit.
Often, you are not going to get a chance to select your own wine glass. If you go to a fancy enough restaurant that they actually own more than two types of wine glasses, the server or sommelier will pick the glass for the wine your ordered. This is nice, because that takes any stress out of it and it's all well and good and exceptional, and ideally you'll be drinking delicious wine with terrific people and eating fancy, tiny food things late into the night. Cheers!
However, if you want to start building your own impressive set of wine glasses, have suddenly inherited your oenophile great uncle's crystal collection, or are just damned curious, I will hopefully shed light on a few things! It's also important to note that not all sources will list the same shaped/sized glasses for the same wines - Pinot Noir and Burgundy glasses are often confused, but I'll come back to that later.
Each wine glass - regardless for which variety of wine it is intended - is shaped the way it is to do a few things:
Enhance the aromas of the wine (aka "the nose") by directing or dissipating them appropriately
Allow for the appropriate oxidation of the wine to help mellow out the tannins as needed
Aim flavor onto the specific part of your tongue best suited for appreciating the awesomeness of the wine
Additionally, the stem is there for a reason: it is so that your hot hands don't alter the temperature of the precious, precious vino that has intentionally been served at X degrees because it tastes better that way.
Wine glasses should also be well-balanced. Balance is a big thing in wine, between flavors, between aromas, between varieties in blends. I think this obsession is because once you've consumed enough, you like to pretend you still know a thing or two about the subject.
If you are really getting fancy-schmancy and want to gaze longingly at the color of your wine and appreciate the "legs" as it rolls down the glass, make sure your glasses are as clear as possible. If you give zero shits about these things, by all means, get colored glasses, etched glasses, glasses with vajazzling, and flowers and flip flops on them. I promise not to judge.
Varieties and their Vessels
Where to start where to start... hmmm.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I removed most of the actually informative pictures included in this article that I made in Photoshop. Instead, please use my TERRIFIC AND DRUNKENLY hand-drawn chart! Yes, I know I spelled "Champagne" wrong.
Okay, so, people willing to invest in a varied set of glasses tend to be really, really fucking particular about wine. With that in mind, if you have a single favorite variety of wine, Adam's step-mom is a die hard Kendall Jackson Chardonnay Lady, for instance, you can easily pick up a set of purpose-build Chard glasses and call it a day. Easy peasy, buttery wine all day every day get on it. However, sometimes you might need to ID a specific glass, or you just impulse-purchased this bottle of Margaux '09 complete with flight to Bordeaux and you really think it would be a shame if you didn't have the right glasses for it. In these cases, there have been loads of charts created for your edification, but I'll hopefully also explain a little why the glasses are shaped as they are. I'm sure I'll accidentally miss a few, so those who know more than I, feel free to chime in! (That's not code for act like a dick on the Internet.)
Red Wine Glasses (from the bolder end to the lighter)
Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux Glasses
Generally speaking, these glasses have similar shapes, but vary in size.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the "biggest" wines you can enjoy (right after a Syrah, I would say). Cabernet glasses help mitigate the acidity of this particularly flavorful wine which is produced all over the damn place. The glasses should be shaped the way the shape "wine glass" looks when someone says it to you. Yes. Classic wine glass. Good good.
I drink a lot of Bordeaux because that's what my company specializes in, and frankly, I love it. In fact, I'm drinking one tonight. Whenever I go to a nice place to present a nice Bordeaux, I'm inevitably handed what can only be described as a comically large wineglass. I feel like this:
Sadly, I can't quite go as far as enjoying all of that because I have to spit it out, which is something I'm still not comfortable doing as I know at some point I will have wine on my chin, but whatever. Bordeaux glasses are often (not always) larger than Cab glasses so that the younger vintages can breathe, since younger Bordeaux have the propensity for winding you if you weren't expecting them, and are large enough so that everyone in the restaurant can see that you are a fancy person who likes Bordeaux.
Burgundy and Pinot Noir Burgundy and Pinot are not neighbors on the wine spectrum. Burgundy actually falls between Cabernet and Bordeaux in boldness and Pinot Noir is a very light and fragile wine, but which originated in Burgundy, which I believe explains the glass confusion. I've seen these two glasses used interchangeably. I've also seen them both used with Syrah. This may not be accepted practice, but mostly, I just want a reliable wine-delivery system. You know, no cracks or holes.
Burgundy wines are pretty fantastic, especially if you like your wine as confusing as a herd of cats on a coke bender. Apparently, it's like the final frontier for wine gurus. I've had a few glasses. It's a trip, because one chateau literally sharing a border with another can create totally different wines. They are best to drink young (within a few years) and some, like Beaujolais (which is a single-grape wine and not a blend) can be served chilled. The glasses are designed to enhance the acidity of the wine, unlike Cabernet glasses, which are designed to do just the opposite, and highlight the intense combination of flavors.
For Pinot Noir, the glass effectively balances the sweeter flavors and acidity of the wine. The most fragile of grapes, Pinot Noir is amazing when it's good, and horrifying when it's bad. The glass also helps temper the alcohol, which in some Pinots make me think of rubbing alcohol. (Note: I only sell one Pinot, and can't afford good wine. So remember that.)
Zinfandel, Chianti and "Standard Red"
This is the catch-all, but if you're looking to build your wine glass stock, I wouldn't recommend it, which I will come back to.
This glass is simple and straightforward. For both Zinfandel and Chianti, the glass helps to temper the flavor of alcohol and enhance the flavors of fruit in the case of Zin, and the spiciness in the case of Chianti. While I like Zin as part of a good blend, I still cannot stand Chianti no matter what goddamned glass it's in.
White Wine and (a few) Dessert Glasses (I've had 2.5 glasses of Bordeaux so far, bear with me) and Totally out of Order from my Drunk Sketch
Chardonnay is probably the best well-known white wine because it's enjoyed so frequently and when I used to babysit my neighbors, I always called that character from High School Musical "Chardonnay" but apparently it was Shar-Pei, like the dog. The booze would have been better. ANYWAY, the Chard glass is great because it always makes me feel like I know what I'm all about regarding wine, apparently that's what holding a glass balloon does to a girl. This glass helps young Chardonnay stay fresh and crisp, but can also enhance the oaky and/or buttery flavors of an older vintage. Really, it's a twofer.
Pinot Grigio glasses are sometimes turned out at the top, this is because Pinot Grigio can have really floral notes, but it's relatively delicate, so sometimes the scents need help. Dry Rieslings can also be poured in these glasses. BUT, you can also pour Pinot Grigio into…
Sauvignon Blanc glasses or a sweet Riesling glass. Notice how the bowls are (supposed to be) slightly different on these glasses. Sauv Blanc is drier, but the glass can support delicate whites like Sauv and Pinot Grigio. Sweeter wines tend to have a bowl shaped thusly because it helps you taste more of the sweetness.
Champagne is typically served in flutes these days. This is to enhance the bouquets of these sparkling wines. In the past, coupes were used for champagne. I like to think this was because you look way fancier when you spill your drink all over your bias-cut satin walking away from the bar. Daisy Buchanan has got jack shit on this lady!
Where to Start Your Collection
While I mentioned many of the types of wine glasses, and there are like a dozen more for more particular wine varieties, you may just want to purchase some great all-around glasses. For this, I suggest that you buy Sauvignon glasses in both red and white. These will cover the majority of your bases and allow for most wines to have a great time in their vessel. If you find later that you're particularly enamored with a specific variety, maybe then consider variety-specific glasses.
I'm a complete putz (side note: this makes my job super-exciting when free-hand carrying bottles of wine worth more than my life) and would never buy crystal glasses. Not only am I clumsy, but I like using modern conveniences like dishwashers. If you have the budget, the time, and the grace to own crystal, go for it! You can then make your wine sing, too. Everyone likes singing wine.
What I'm Drinking
I sell Chateau Lanessan and this bottle was popped two days ago for a prospective customer. Typically, I don't go around opening bottles of aged Bordeaux for my own jollies. Lanessan located in the Haut-Medoc region of Bordeaux, and in the interest of full disclosure, I hated it when I first tried it. When a bottle is popped, like many a Bordeaux from this region, it is farmy. Like, you smell a fucking farm. Mmmm 100% Manure Wine. This is actually part of the terroir of the wine, as it gives excellent sense of place when you encounter the bottle. But, when decanted and properly allowed to breathe, it is really, really good for an affordable aged Bordeaux (typically retails for arounf $22-$26). One of the things I love best about Lanessan has nothing to do with the actual taste of the wine, but that the chateau's general manager is a Spanish woman named Paz Espejo. She's totally kicking ass in a male-dominated field.
Anyway, once it's allowed proper time to acquaint itself with oxygen, the nose on this wine is of note-quite perfectly ripe red fruit like cherry (the term "bright" is usually used for "not-quite-ripe" in my estimation). It's a little more acidic than I like to taste, but it's still really nice, though kind of light in a Pinot Noir sort of way, which is odd for a wine that it's Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and some other varieties.